March 13, 2023 — It’s Monday morning, and the thought of starting another work week couldn’t be less exciting for you. You plod to your desk, push yourself through a few monotonous tasks, then grab an early and long lunch, because what’s the point of doing more than you have to?
Does this sound like you? If so, you may be dealing with “rust”. It can happen when you become dissatisfied with your job, and it gradually starts to erode your performance because you just don’t care enough about doing your best.
The feeling of dissatisfaction that rust brings may come from what you perceive as negativity from your boss or from a lack of challenge or opportunity.
“Perhaps you don’t have much to do in your job, or you don’t think what you’re doing is important or creative,” says Christopher Combs, PhD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine in Philadelphia. “Some companies just aren’t interested in helping their people grow; they just hire people to do things that keep the company moving forward.”
Rust is a common occurrence in the American workforce. According to a Gallup Survey 2023, 18% of American workers report feeling “actively disengaged” from their work. The problem of job satisfaction and mental health is of such concern that the Surgeon General of the United States recently published a report above. The report outlines a framework for optimal mental health and wellbeing; a key segment specifically finds that knowing you matter at work reduces stress.
The COVID-19 pandemic also has a strong connection to the problem. A new study from the University of Washington School of Medicine found that 51% of workers surveyed said COVID-related stress in the workplace had reduced the quality of their work, and they felt emotionally drained, enjoyed their work less and felt less of a sense of personal accomplishment at work. Another recent large-scale study found that the pandemic made workers fearful of catching the virus to the point where they suffered from reduced job satisfaction. Overall, stressful working conditions can have a significant impact on the emotional state and performance of employees.
What are the symptoms of rust?
Creeping disinterest in your job is number one.
“Signs can include feeling disengaged,” says Combs. “You might find yourself surfing the web a lot instead of working. Once the rust has seeped into your private life, you can isolate yourself – you find you want to be less social. You’ll feel like staying home and watching instead of seeing friends, or sleeping – sleep becomes an escape.
And this kind of mood swing can quickly become a habit.
“The key is to look for changes in personal sleeping, eating and socializing habits over a period of time, like a week or two. Are you able to bounce back from a night’s sleep or a brisk walk? says Amy Cooper Hakim, PhD, workplace expert and management consultant in Boca Raton, Fla., and author of Working with difficult people. If the answer is no, that’s a clear indication of rust.
You may also experience physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches.
“You don’t really feel sad, you just feel ‘blah’ gradually,” Combs explains.
What is the difference between Job Rust Out and Job Burnout?
Although Burnout can also cause a feeling of emotional exhaustion, caused by working too hard or too long. Rust invades your psyche because you are not engaged enough in what you are doing. You may also not feel valued for the work you manage to contribute.
“Rust is tied to ‘quitting smoking,’ Combs says. ‘You might come to think, ‘What’s the least amount of work I have to do to get paid?'”
Rust and burnout can make you feel undervalued, which can undermine your self-esteem.
“A sign includes not feeling like the work you’re doing is meaningful,” says Larissa Barber, PhD, associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University College of Science. “You wonder if the work you are doing is really important or has an impact. You may also feel helpless about how to improve or make changes. You may feel that you no longer have the ability to do your job well, or even learn new skills that you need to be successful.
Can rust turn into depression?
If it’s hard to concentrate because you’re ruminating about how unhappy you are at work, pay attention.
“Constant difficulty concentrating and making simple decisions may indicate you’re experiencing something beyond short-term disengagement,” says Cathleen Swody, PhD, organizational psychologist and adjunct professor of management at the School of Business. from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT.
And if the rust is left untreated, your co-workers and supervisors will notice a change in your job performance.
Swody says the key sign it’s time to seek professional support, such as a licensed therapist, is if negative feelings interfere with day-to-day functioning.
It can be helpful to try to take care of yourself in your free time. Enjoy a long hot bath or a good meal, and see if it recharges your batteries.
“If you don’t act or feel like you normally do after a lazy weekend day, or if you can’t bring yourself to get to work on time, or if you can’t finish your work as you normally would, then it may be appropriate to get help,” says Cooper Hakim. “Sometimes just talking to a mental health professional can reduce feelings of isolation and solitude.”
What can you do to fix rust at work?
First, awaken your personal passion. Try a new hobby at home, which might help you feel a sense of excitement that you may be able to transfer into your professional life. Next, list three ways you think you can bring something new to your business.
Combs suggests talking to your manager to see if you can alternate responsibilities or if you can take on a job that interests you more. Taking a course, whether through your company or on your own, can also reset your motivation.
“If you feel stuck, develop your skills further,” Combs continues. It could also help you find another job if you choose to make a fresh start.
The bottom line: you can conquer rust.
“People who thrive at work feel energized and energized,” Barber says. “Be proactive about what you really want, and you can enjoy your career and achieve more than ever before.”